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A Call To Dialogue

Hello, all. Attempts in the United States to articulate a peace response 
before the bombing starts are continuing.

In solidarity,

Rahul Mahajan

                                Published on Thursday, September 13, 2001
                                A Call to Dialogue
                                by Rahul Mahajan

                                As the calls for war in the mainstream 
media and the halls of power grow louder, with
                                Senator John McCain speaking for many when 
he said, "God may have mercy on them, but
                                we won't," a different kind of response has 
been building as well.

                                The peace community, from established 
groups like Peace Action (
                                and the Fellowship of Reconciliation 
( to grassroots activists across the
                                country, has united in a strong, 
consistent, and deeply heartfelt response. Reading the
                                statements being put out, one sees clearly 
that the entire community joins wholeheartedly
                                with the nation in condemning the brutal 
attack of two days ago, and in the fear, grief, and
                                shattering sense of loss it has occasioned.

                                There is also widespread agreement that 
there should be no rush to judgment and no
                                massive "retaliation" that would target the 
innocent civilians of any country. Noting that
                                international law does not recognize any 
right of retaliation or vengeance (Chapter 7 of the
                                UN Charter, which governs the use of force, 
requires that any action be taken only with the
                                permission, and under the auspices of, the 
Security Council, the only exception being
                                self-defense against imminent attack which 
does not include vengeance for past attacks),
                                Peace Action and others are calling clearly 
for any remaining perpetrators to be brought to
                                justice through legal channels, with 
international cooperation.

                                Very similar sentiments were expressed in a 
community discussion last night, organized by
                                Austin's progressive activist community. 
Two hundred and fifty people came together, to
                                express their emotions and their 
experiences, to share ideas and information, and to plan
                                future actions.

                                From the beginning, it was clear that 
people really needed to talk. There was no good way
                                to cope with the flurry of hands that was 
raised at every pause.

                                One young man tearfully expressed his fear 
that, with all the talk of America going to war,
                                the draft would be reinstated and that he 
would have to kill or die in an effort he opposed.
                                Several were afraid of the loss of our 
civil liberties. Others shared their fear for friends,
                                relatives, and friends of friends who 
worked near the World Trade Centers, and who had not
                                been heard from. Everyone felt grief and 
anger that so many innocent people were killed.

                                Many, however, expressed strong emotions of 
a different kind. Deep disquiet with their
                                friends and acquaintances caught up in a 
vortex of fury, often racist in tone. Anger at the
                                mainstream media, almost universally 
perceived to be even worse than government officials
                                in their constant calls for blood 
somebody's, anybody's. Guilt, pain, and sorrow on
                                contemplating the seemingly inevitable 
killing of innocent civilians being planned by our

                                And, far and away the most common feeling, 
isolation. Many expressed their heartfelt
                                gratitude that the discussion had been 
organized, because they had been feeling, "Nobody
                                else thinks the way I do."

                                After talking through their feelings, many 
who had been sunk in despair felt newly energized
                                to do what they could to head off war, and 
the discussion ended in a massive organizing

                                The lesson is clear. There are many, many 
people in this country who see clearly that one
                                killing of innocents will not be requited 
by another, that a radically different path is needed to
                                assure our security and that of people in 
other parts of the world.

                                In the days to come, if those people rely 
only on the television and the big daily
                                newspapers, they will feel isolated and 
beleaguered, deprived of their voices and their
                                democratic right to help shape the public 

                                That will be a tremendous tragedy. Even 
though this is an incredibly difficult time to speak
                                up, and voices against war will inevitably 
be branded as apologists for terror, this is also a
                                very important time to speak up. Americans 
have seen up close the tangible effects of our
                                foreign policy, and they are interested as 
they have not been since the nuclear freeze
                                movement, maybe even since the Vietnam war.

                                Let us call, then, for communities across 
the country to have similar dialogues, to work
                                through feelings of pain, fear, and grief 
and begin to fashion a coherent response to
                                warmongering before the war is upon us. We 
who favor peace must create our own national
                                dialogue before we can hope to influence 
the larger one.

                                Austin could have such a large meeting on 
such short notice because of a multi-year
                                sustained effort (, 
centering around antiwar work, that has built up
                                a very large (4000) e-mail announcement and 
rapid response list. Localities without that
                                kind of infrastructure may take a little 
longer, but the need for timely action is great.

                                Rahul Mahajan is an antiwar activist, and 
serves on the Coordinating Committee of the
                                National Network to End the War Against 
Iraq and the Board of Directors of Peace Action (ID only).
                                He can be reached at 

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